When Radio Meant Liberty (Opinion)
The general manager of a radio station heard about the fire while at his desk. He was listening to a disc jockey talk between records and suddenly the announcer blurted there were flames in the parking lot. The general manager looked out his window and saw his new Cadillac burning.
They made a gasoline bomb, drove back to the radio station and tossed it on the car
Firefighters at a nearby fire barn heard the shocked voice of the announcer and raced down the street. Quick work ensured nothing but the car got scorched. A few days later the general manager resigned after only a short time on the job. His staff absolutely despised him. One day after two on-air personalities had left the office they were drinking and hatched a scheme. They made a gasoline bomb, drove back to the radio station and tossed it on the car.
I know the offenders. I’m not at liberty to identify them. I was sworn to secrecy when a friend at work told me the story. It had happened 15 years earlier. The bomb-throwers are still among the living.
In the late 1980s I joined a very good radio station in transition from an older staff to younger. The World War Two veterans were retiring. John Gray had retired before my arrival. I understand he was a kind and very pleasant man and very trusting. He had been a prisoner of the Germans before the end of the war and was well respected, however. Some of the younger broadcasters thought him gullible. Two of them telephoned him one night while he was in studio. One miscreant claimed he was Perry Como’s publicist and explained Perry had suddenly died. An upcoming local Como concert would be cancelled. John shared it on-air and vouched with the news department he had a solid source. Within an hour the news of the crooner’s death bounced around the world. Then the telephone rang at the station. Perry Como was on the line. He wasn’t angry but explained he was feeling fine.
About the time I saw Gray’s obituary in the newspaper I encountered one of the pranksters and he bragged about the caper. He had been a competitor and saw an opportunity to gain an edge on credibility.
Another old time broadcaster went into politics and one autumn evening I was chatting with him at his mayoral office. He told me his old station had been located a few blocks away and on the second floor of an office building. A fellow was on-air one night when he heard a growing roar. A co-worker rode a motorcycle up the stairs and burst into the broadcast booth. These same guys also had a ritual. They would put a long record on a turntable and then drive about 15 blocks to an ice cream stand, grab a Coke and a cone and then see if they could return before the record came to an end.
Many are the old time announcers who laugh about lighting the news anchors copy on fire. They tell this one as if they believe they were the only people who ever got such an idea. Lighters aren’t a common item in pockets any longer and the long reams of copy pulled from a teletype are a thing of the past.
In one town where I worked I was told some old TV anchors were always drunk on-air and between shows would meet women next door for trysts. In a cemetery!
A drunk hosting Bowling for Dollars once broke the barrel with the names of home contestants. The wooden peg holding it in place went careening across the studio on live TV.
I’ve got mixed feelings about all of these events. Some were dangerous (the ones involving fire) and some were stupid. Within a few years of my entry into broadcasting ownership was becoming much more corporatized. At one very good station where I worked all the men wore starched white shirts and ties. No denim, no colored shirts and you were always clean shaven. And, yet, I think broadcasting lost something very special when the entertainers became far less entertaining behind the scenes. Today, political correctness and corporate lawyers have robbed us of a great many stories.